In less than six weeks, unless there is a decisive Government U-turn, Britain, as required by the European Union, will throw open its jobs market to the 29 million citizens of Romania and Bulgaria.
It’s a development which could have the most considerable implications for the Prime Minister, British society and, most importantly, this country’s one million unemployed young people.
Yet David Cameron and his ministers are approaching January 1 with a head-in-the-sand insouciance which is so sadly typical of a political class that is increasingly remote from the lives and concerns of ordinary voters.
Incredibly, the Government has refused to estimate how many migrants will arrive.
This week, Mark Harper, the Immigration Minister, said — with frightening complacency — that he didn’t think the number would be huge.
In doing so, he ignored hard empirical evidence that a new wave of immigration is about to take place that will place huge strain on our already stretched schools, hospitals and housing.
Consider the facts: the average wage in Britain is about £26,000 a year, compared with just over £3,000 in Bulgaria and £4,000 in Romania. It’s utterly unsurprising that, when the Mail visited both countries recently, there were huge queues at recruitment centres for British hotel chains, fast-food firms and the NHS.
Even before the restrictions are lifted, 135,000 workers from Romania and Bulgaria are already in this country. This number has increased by 23,000 in the past year alone.
On Tuesday, it emerged how British colleges were being inundated by applications from 5,000 youngsters from these two desperately poor countries wanting student loans.
Salford University research reveals Britain already has one of the largest Roma populations (which includes migrants from Romania and Bulgaria) in Western Europe — with about 200,000 living here.
That figure, typically, is four times higher than the Government’s own estimates.
Worryingly, MigrationWatch UK chairman Sir Andrew Green, whose research has proved painstakingly accurate over the past decade, is predicting 50,000 arrivals every year from Romania and Bulgaria from January 1.
Over five years, that is the equivalent of the population of a city the size of Hull.
The Mail cannot be accused of irresponsibility in raising this issue.
Consider the recent words of David Blunkett, the ex-Labour Home Secretary, who warned the huge numbers of Roma already living in his hometown of Sheffield were inflaming community tensions.
Using extraordinarily candid language, Mr Blunkett said that, if the migrants did not ‘change their culture’, start sending their children to school and stop dumping rubbish, Britain’s streets could soon be scarred by riots.
Meanwhile, his predecessor Jack Straw, in an astonishing confession, admitted that — by failing to impose restrictions on the huge wave of immigration from Poland and seven other Eastern European countries who joined the EU in 2004 — Labour had made a ‘spectacular mistake’ that had led to ‘social dislocation’.
Labour at that time had risibly predicted that just 13,000 immigrants would arrive every year. In the event, one million came in only six years.
Joining Straw in the mea culpa stakes, Alan Johnson, another Labour Home Secretary, conceded, with considerable understatement, that his government had got its ‘sums wrong’.
With the lessons of the past before him, the Mail believes that for David Cameron blithely to let history repeat itself with Romania and Bulgaria would be a major error of judgment.
Most pertinently, it would be a betrayal of a generation of young Britons, many of whom — if they face even greater competition for scarce jobs — could be condemned to live lives of welfare dependency, sapped of ambition and purpose.
Which is why — backed, as our exclusive poll today shows, by an overwhelming 80 per cent of the British public — we call on Mr Cameron to defy Brussels and keep the restrictions on Romanian and Bulgarian immigration in place until our economic recovery is secure and jobs can be found for our own young.
Let us immediately nail the lie that this position is somehow ‘racist’.
This paper has always applauded the huge contribution made by migrants, most of whom work extremely hard and bring valuable skills to the economy.
But the fact is that British society — which has been asked to absorb 2.5 million new arrivals since 1997 — will struggle to cope with another large wave of immigration.
The findings of our poll make this clear, with 85 per cent of Britons saying immigration is putting too much pressure on public services such as schools, hospitals and housing.
Some 76 per cent say it has affected the ability of young Britons to get a job. Four out of ten feel immigration has changed their community for the worse, compared to only 11 per cent who say it is better.
The findings of this poll, conducted by reputable researchers, could not be clearer: across all parts of Britain, voters young and old say they are tired of not being listened to by the political class and want the country to reclaim control of its borders.
For the politicians to ignore these utterly legitimate concerns would be an abuse of democracy.
Yet that is precisely what Mr Cameron plans to do, saying that to defy Brussels on January 1 would break the law, and almost certainly land Britain in the European Court of Justice.
In this, he is being disingenuous. There is no ‘law’ which says Britain must fling open its doors to Romanians and Bulgarians.
What there is is a directive, forced upon the British public by an unelected, undemocratic Brussels elite. The British public was not consulted. Nobody in this country voted for it.
Of course the EU (and inevitably Nick Clegg) would be furious if Mr Cameron took a stand.
But this paper believes — and our poll confirms it — that the Conservatives would receive overwhelming support from the voters for finally having the courage to take a decision that is in the national interest, rather than one designed to appease the Brussels establishment.
Indeed, two-thirds of the public say that, even if it means Britain is hit by swingeing fines, the restrictions must remain in place.
The truth is that, by remaining subservient to the EU, Mr Cameron is giving considerable succour to UKIP, which is now the party most trusted by voters on immigration.
Not only that, he is actually losing support to a Labour Party which, with outrageous opportunism, has suggested it would take a far tougher stance over Bulgaria and Romania.
For the bitter irony exposed by our poll is that the public have greater faith in Labour to curtail immigration than the Tories who have actually attempted to cap it.
This is the same Labour Party, remember, that destroyed Britain’s border controls and — with no debate — imposed a policy of mass immigration on the public in order to, in the words of an ex-Blair adviser, ‘rub the Right’s nose in diversity’.
Truly, the stakes are very high for Mr Cameron.
If he does nothing, and large numbers do pour in from Romania and Bulgaria, it could not only be a significant factor in condemning the Tories to defeat in May 2015. It will place further strain on the fabric of British society, and further harm the lives of our one million jobless young people.
The public has been ignored for too long on immigration — the issue on which there is no greater gulf between the electors and the people who claim to represent them.
Is it too much, therefore, to ask Mr Cameron to stand up for our national interest?
If he did, he might even receive the gratitude of the voters in the next election. Those voters know that the country cannot afford to make another ‘spectacular mistake’.
Why can’t the Tories understand that too?
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